I leap out of the chopper, rotors still spinning, onto the dusty ground. The Italian pilot, breathing bottled oxygen, flashes three fingers and a Sherpa quickly begins refilling the stripped-down Eurocopter for a rescue mission. “Dhanyabad dai,” I exclaim as the craft lifts into the Himalayan sky.
I inventory the situation: I’m immediately overwhelmed by the warmth of the air at 13,000 ft in the Khumbu countryside. I begin to sweat in my layers of down and Primaloft as I bound down the trail towards Namche. My pack is burdensome and poorly packed, containing a couple broken laptops, a bunch of dirty laundry, some toiletries and all of my remaining Rupees. My mind and body are focused on a single, essential mission: run 15 miles down valley before nightfall, catch a flight to Kathmandu and submit my PhD.
Wait, what?!? Why don’t I bring you up to speed with my last week of internet hell.
So my daily routine last week at base camp (aside from shivering, coughing and trying to force down soup, rice and carrots) has been to wake up, fill a hot water bottle, wrap said hot water bottle and my laptop in a down jacket, wait for an hour, charge on marginal solar power for a couple hours, and attempt to establish a secure connection during a snowstorm on a satellite-based internet connection on a flowing river of ice at 17,600 ft.
Typical days at BC this year have been “colder than a polar bear’s toenails” (Outkast, 1996). Nighttime lows I’d estimate at slightly below zero, which feels quite a lot colder when you’re still acclimatizing by the way. Mornings in the Khumbu are often sunny, but don’t get suckered, it’ll start to snow before lunchtime most days.
Then a couple days ago, my laptop fully died. Slightly rattled, but still with my eyes on the prize, I tried Damian’s laptop. After a couple hours of login hell, Everest claimed yet another victim. Digital tragedy struck in the Chilean camp next to us. I was running out of options. Even if we’d been lucky enough to have working comms and a solid internet connection, temperatures and the charging situation were dire enough that I’d unlikely be able to submit the documents before the sun set and WiFi signal faded. By this, I mean, unlikely to submit by my June deadline. The time had come for radical action.
Two days ago was surprisingly clear, and a chopper was busy ferrying loads for one of this season’s many film productions. This meant they were flying empty downvalley. A few phonecalls were made, I desperately threw what I needed into a pack and ran to the helipad as the weather closed in. I jumped from the ice and rock platform into the running beast, tossed my pack on the aluminum floor and crouched in for the ride. These specially-modified B3e’s are marvels of modern engineering. Last year, I watched from above as one of these machines performed the highest rescue in history, longlining a climber off Everest from over 25,000ft. The Italian pilots who fly seasonally in Nepal are some of the best mountain aviators in the world and playfully dance the aircraft in and out of crevasses and river valleys. There were times I felt I could touch the ridges as we raced downvalley. Frankly, I think they do it just so they can see the look on our faces.
I thought we were going to Lukla. That was the plan. But plans are only things that haven’t changed yet…especially in Nepal. In fact, expeditions in general are guaranteed to have problems, often serious, but often with solutions. Unfortunately for me, I was nowhere near Lukla, laden with useless items, and lacking such trail essentials as a headlamp. But I was gonna catch that flight. I checked my watch and realized I had only a few hours of daylight to cover over a third of the standard Everest base camp trek. Time to get moving! I hustled, running much of the trail, scrambling past yak trains on cliff faces when necessary, and generally looking out of place. Sherpas laughed at my hustle. I made it to Lukla not long after nightfall and met Lhakpa who helped me get set for the morning. Everyone had written me off as a no-show. The next morning, I managed a seat on the last flight out of Lukla before the weather closed in, hopped in a taxi and went to the computer repair store. I spent the day there working on tech stuff (I also got to know Robert at Apple tech support quite well!) and starting to get my new files working. Early yesterday evening, I submitted (the work was done, but getting my backed up copy offline and uploading it was quite entertaining).
Tomorrow, I’ll try to reverse the process and get back up to Everest as fast as possible. It’s equally uncertain where I’ll wind up, but we’ll just see what happens. My health has improved substantially in the warmth and oxygen-rich air of Kathmandu, but I’m not yet 100%, so we’ll just have to see where this trip goes from here. It’d be hard to get much weirder. At least I’m happy to have an opportunity to reboot, get a fresh start on this trip without external stress and distractions. Everest will require a new focus. It’s time to return to the mountains and the trip I’ve dreamt about for so long. hmix is back!
Note: I realize the absurdity of this modern situation, but it was a reality of my trip this year. I’ve never before brought such important work on an expedition, but forces out of my control made it the case.
Now I’m getting started with another laptop. I lost all of my data from this trip, so the videos and photos you saw on the blog are it for now. More to come in the future, but if communications are anything like when I left, we’ll be limited to stories and some photos. I’ll release the videos this summer, including a missing episode from the trek to BC that I’m hoping to recover later.